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Civil to Strangers

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: Macmillan (1987)
  • ASIN: B009NR55H4
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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3.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was the last of Barbara Pym's writings to be published - a collection of early works, written before her first published novel (although after the first draft of that novel), four short stories (one also predating the published works) and a short piece for BBC radio on 'finding a voice'.

It was clearly right to make this work available. We'd otherwise be wondering about all those other things Pym had written that hadn't been published and that might, for all we knew, have been masterpieces. The early novel and three novellas, sadly, are not in the same league as Pym's later work - though they all have their moments.

The four short stories are slight, the two dating from the late 70s are clearly in Pym's own established 'voice' in a way the earlier work is not. It's nice to have more about Faustina the cat and the Aingers (characters from An Unsuitable Attachment) and the short story about being a guest at an Oxford college feast and meeting an old love who doesn't remember you - and where you too don't remember all you might, accurately about him.

The radio talk is charmingly modest; and tells us about the influence on Pym of Aldous Huxley, Ivy Compton Burnett, someone called Elizabeth and the author of Elizabeth and her German Garden - and Jane Austen and Trollope. The most interesting point, however, is where she says that at Oxford she wrote something about someone she was (unhappily) in love with - and later transmuted this into comedy in one of her novels. (Presumably, Henry Harvey who becomes the Archdeacon in Some Tame Gazelle). Sadly she doesn't tell us how she managed this...

In short, Pym is a really enjoyable novelist at her best, who sees deeply into the human heart and sees both the comedy and the tragedy of life. But here her gifts are not displayed at their best.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I came late to the work of Barbara Pym not recognising her perceptive wit and satirical qualities when younger. I now am devouring any of her work I can find. She was superb. Finding this collection of unfinished and shorter pieces was pure joy.
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Format: Hardcover
The title story is Pym's second novel, though it was published only posthumously, in 1987. Art is here close to life; the heroine of the title story, Cassandra (developed from Pym's dream-name Sandra at Oxford?) is the submissive, ironic wife to a writer of fiction and poetry, Adam, named from Paradise Lost, another who is much given to reading aloud to his lady, as did Pym's fellow student Henry Harvey to her. The book is recognizably suppositious as to the author's possible marriage to Harvey -- wishful thinking plus self-abnegation and a dose of shrewd realism. Cassandra travels to Budapest, as Pym and her sister did in 1935.

Harvey went to Finland in 1934, lecturing at a university, and married a Finnish girl in 1937; Pym wrote her `Finnish novel', which began as letters to him there and finished in 1938 as `Gervase and Flora'. Set in Helsingfors, this is truly a story of unreciprocated love bravely borne.

When World War II began, Pym remained at her parental home in Oswestry, and worked in a military canteen from 1939-41. During this time she wrote the three war stories: `Home Front novel', `So Very Secret' and `Goodbye Balkan Capital'. These all treat of the early years of the war as experienced in the English countryside, and the involvement of English women.

`Home Front Novel' opens with a First Aid class practising bandaging, goes on to show the arrival in a village of a batch of evacuees and the conversion of gardens to vegetable growing.

`So Very Secret' has another Cassandra heroine, `a country woman in early middle age ... My life is filled up with all the activities of a country village in wartime -- Red Cross and canteen work, besides church brasses and flowers'.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An interesting book- several short stories- mainly depicting life in an English town or village around the time of the second world war. Barbara Pym was very good at describing the details of everyday life for a single woman in reduced circumstances.
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